Innovation: Tech Not Necessarily Required

For some reason, many people feel that innovation is not innovation unless it’s some innovative technology which is included somewhere above – or is at least being mentioned as being innovative in the news: drones, internet of things, chatbots, sensors, robots, augmented reality, etc.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see that damn Gartner hype-cycle graph, suggesting that this technology is passé, while that technology is overhyped. This causes some to conflate innovation with technology – that you can’t be innovative unless you use futuristic technology, like the above, in your ideas.

But that’s not innovation.

Simply taking something that you are doing today and applying one of the aforementioned technologies does not suddenly make something innovative (ooh mobile banking!).
Innovation comes from the idea, not the hardware.

Sure, there are innovations which come from the hardware or software combinations which have never been tried before – for example ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft, meal delivery services like Doordash would not have existed were it not for modern technologies of smartphones, mapping services and APIs from services like Google Maps, GPS, and always available cheap internet on mobile devices.

On our end, we feel that you don’t need fancy new tech to innovate, all it takes is a human brain – in some cases a number of human brains in a room – whether it be virtual or in-person – whiteboards, sticky notes and markers, and some simple exercises to help unlock those ideas.

There are tons of innovations in the product, service and business model space which is not driven by new technologies, but by simply combining existing technologies in new ways, sometimes juxtaposing new things in new places, and using what worked in one space and moving it to another.

Sometimes it’s as easy as taking something which works well in one part of the world and moving it to another, morphing it in the process to address new markets. Human brains, properly prepared and stimulated, have come up with amazing new innovative and disruptive, sometimes billion-dollar ideas, out of seemingly nowhere.

Just as a test – one of the exercises we do is looking at generating new ideas based on very well understood technologies, purposely not looking at anything from the above list, no new and different technologies, just combining everything that is already out there.

Even if you leave out the latest, bleeding-edge stuff, there are still plenty of great ideas out there. It doesn’t always need the touch of new technology to be disruptive. In fact, some of the most disruptive ideas we’ve come up with in our ideation sessions stem from seeking a massive improvement in the lives of our client’s customers.

In some cases, the ideas are so disruptive that they are killed in the session with the dreaded “Don’t go there”.

My point is this – you don’t need to focus on, discuss, or even really know anything about the latest and greatest technologies to come up with great ideas.

You just need an open mind, and the willingness to just go there.